Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 175 - 179)




  175. May we now open this part of our meeting on Turkey. Mr John Macgregor, Director for Wider Europe, has joined the Secretary of State and Mr Ricketts.

  (Mr Straw) I have an opening statement which I will summarise as time is short. Your Committee, Chairman, has just been to Turkey. I greatly welcome the fact that you have made the visit. It is a country which I have been taking an interest in myself. It repays re-visiting. I have been there twice myself in the last five months. We think that there are encouraging signs that Turkey's reforms are beginning to develop momentum but since you and your colleagues have been there more recently than I have and have been able to spend a great deal more time there than I have been able to, I would be very interested to hear your conclusions as well.

  Chairman: That will come out in the wash of the Committee's questions. We are as a Committee most grateful to our Ambassador in Ankara, our Consul-General in Istanbul, who are models of what a Committee could expect from diplomatic representatives.

Ms Stuart

  176. Foreign Secretary, We are very grateful for the submission of the Foreign Office in relation to UK/Turkey relations[5]. I got no sense, reading through that, of to what extent an assessment has been made by the Foreign Office about whether it would be in the United Kingdom's interests to have Turkey as a full member of the European Union and in particular there are two aspects which I should like you to address in the answer. Following Laeken it became quite clear that in terms of Turkey's application to become a member, even though no formal date has been set, it is no longer regarded as 15 current members, 12 candidate members plus one, but Turkey has a full place which equals the other candidate members. In that assessment there are two aspects. One is, what would be the main areas where Britain's strategic interests would be best served by membership of the European Union by Turkey, and the second is, what is your assessment of at what stage Turkey could make sufficient progress to become a full member? During our visit to Turkey we heard anything from, "Give us a date and we can do it in six months" to, "We can look at 10 to 12 years".

  (Mr Straw) We have long supported Turkey's membership of the European Union but that has to be on the basis of the criteria set out in Copenhagen in June of 1993, which apply to Turkey as equally as they apply to any of the other applicants. It will be recalled that membership requirements of the candidate country are to achieve stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with the competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. It presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership and adhere to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. Those are the criteria laid down. You will also be aware, Ms Stuart, that in Helsinki it said in paragraph 12 that Turkey is a candidate destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate states. Turkey, like other candidate states, would benefit from a pre-accession strategy to stimulate and support its reforms. That is the basis. We want to see Turkey in. However, we want to see Turkey in on the same basis as any other member and we think that is not only important for the integrity of the Union but also important for Turkey, so it can take a full and confident place at the table. In terms of its status in accession, it is, as I think you know, at the pre-screening stage. Although I think in many other respects it has been treated in a similar way to other candidates who are further down the track, in terms of where it is in timescale it is further back than any other candidate at the moment. You are saying when will they make good progress, when will they be in? I cannot put a date on that. They will come in when they have got through the screening process and when they have been able to show tangible progress on each of the chapters, those chapters have been closed and there has therefore been agreement to their accession. You ask about our United Kingdom strategic interests. Size, geographical position and its neighbourhood, to put it as delicately as that, mean that Turkey is an extremely important ally for us. They have been a loyal, faithful ally of the United Kingdom and the other now 17 members of NATO. They have played, as you know, a very important part in the continuation of the action which has been necessary against Iraq. They have played a key role in the fight against terrorism and we hope very much that they will take over as lead nation on ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, in Afghanistan. Our own judgement is that our strategic interests with them are reasonably well served at the moment but would be better served if they were members of the European Union. For example, under ESDP a lot of the difficulties which they face at the moment would fall away when they were a member of the European Union.

  177. Does the United Kingdom have a position on the question of whether Turkey should be given a date to start the negotiating process? The reason why I ask that is that we very much picked up during our visit that the perception in Turkey was that everybody makes a lot of positive noises but these noises are never followed by real action, that EU membership for those who want to continue their modernisation process in Turkey is an extremely important vehicle, but it could also be potentially destabilising and therefore once dates are given it gives a kind of milestone along which you can manage that process. Hence my question, do we want to give them a date and what is our realistic assessment on which that could be achieved?
  (Mr Straw) We have not given them a date yet and I do not think we would give them a date until they have gone past the present pre-screening situation. That is because it has been collectively judged that it would not be appropriate to offer them a date at the moment. For example, if you take their big human rights agenda, when I was there, which was initially mid-October, these 34 separate constitutional amendments had just been passed through and the President and the Prime Minister and other people I spoke were all very pleased about that, but that was getting agreement in principle to these changes. They have then got to get them through in detailed texts and then they have to be sure that they operate on the ground. That is in a sense a bigger agenda than is faced by most, not all, other accession countries. However, if your Committee were to say that you think that we should consider setting a date, which is not a recommendation I have had put to me up to now, then of course I would pay very careful attention to that.
  (Mr Ricketts) Could I just add one sentence, Chairman, just to say that, as the Foreign Secretary says, it is difficult to set a date because in the end it is up to the Turks themselves and the pace of their own economic and political reform programmes which will determine how quickly they move through this process leading to the accession negotiations.


  178. But if they were to do well, if they were to fulfil the criteria, can we take it that they will join, because there is a clear feeling in Turkey that not with the UK but with some EU members there is a hidden agenda, an unspoken nature of objection, which would prevent Turkey for other reasons joining the Union?
  (Mr Straw) Yes, is the answer to that. We are completely committed to them joining if they fulfil the Copenhagen criteria. They know that. I accept entirely the implication behind your question, and what was said more explicitly by Ms Stuart, which is that the very process of seeking membership in an active way, which they have been, is obviously acting as a dynamic to the internal politics of the country in Turkey and if that dynamic was stalled, and unfairly stalled, that could have quite a serious adverse effect on the domestic stability of Turkey, and we acknowledge that.

Ms Stuart

  179. You made reference in the submission about the exchange between British officials and Turkish officials and you yourself said that you had visited Turkey twice in the recent past. Are you aware of any plans of the Prime Minister intending to visit Turkey, because that certainly was something which was mentioned to us on a number of occasions, and secondly (a more administrative question), are you satisfied that the current numbers of Turkish speakers you have access to within the Foreign Office is sufficient to work constructively with Turkey?
  (Mr Straw) I will ask Mr Macgregor and Mr Ricketts to comment on the exchange of officials. The Prime Minister's visit programme has a lot of demands on it but it is kept under close review and again I am sure that if your Committee, Ms Stuart, were to say they thought a visit by the Prime Minister was a priority that would be considered closely.

5   See Evidence, pp Ev 56-Ev 63. Back

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